Before You Buy That Homeschool Curriculum
I've been absent for a bit lately, as we've been in the process of moving from Hawaii to Virginia. Along with that came the necessary goodbyes, not only to beautiful Hawaii and our friends, but to our second oldest who stayed behind to attend college (Can you blame him??).
He's got a great community there and I know he'll do just fine. (The mama? Not so much...) As our oldest is married and living on his own now as well, we made this move with our younger two, which was strange and also much easier, logistically speaking! There have been a lot of transitions for our family the past few months--including the graduation of our third child. Our youngest is going into her junior year and I spent several days recently rethinking schooling decisions how we should approach this year.
Then it hit me that we've done this before and all my angst was likely related to the latest transition and that we should probably stay the course with our literature-heavy, eclectic style of homeschooling.
I've been talking with a dear friend about young homeschooling mommies and the pressure brought to bear to spend big bucks on classes and online learning and "enrichment." Please take a look at her post about simplifying and getting back to basics as you head into a new school year, "Making Room for School."
However, there does seem to be a different pressure on homeschooling moms than there was when we first began. If you're homeschooling and also have other little ones, I'd encourage you to keep it simple. Almost embarrassingly simple (as in, a library card, field trips, a math book, a language arts book, science activities, and lots of literature and free time).
So, before you drop a wad for the latest must-have curriculum, I would encourage you to ask yourself a few questions:
Does it suit your child?
It doesn't matter if it's easy for YOU to use and you love the way it looks and feels if your kids hate it--it will end up being a very expensive dust collector. I've often said that homeschooling is not about ME, it's about THEM. Forcing a hands-on child into a curriculum that better suits a visual learner (since that's how I learn best!) is a mistake. If you haven't yet, take some time to study learning styles and how children--especially YOUR child--best learn. Diana Waring has some great resources for this.
Is this company playing off your fears?
As you're reading through a company's site and materials and are constantly told that you simply must use their curriculum or your kids will be dumb/stupid/behind/not popular if you don't use their amazing and outstanding curriculum or classes, I'd suggest you move on.
What's the track record?
Have other homeschoolers used it successfully? Or is it more given to a classroom situation? If it's a 'homegrown' curriculum written by homeschoolers, has the author actually used it with his or her own children or at least a co-op?
You might think you wouldn't even have to ask this, but you'd be surprised to know there is high school curriculum written by parents of only preschoolers or whose own children never homeschooled through high school.
Also, the homeschool situation is completely different than the classroom situation. It's obviously not impossible to use classroom materials for homeschooling, but they need adapting. And if someone is telling me this will work for my high schoolers and they're a homeschooling parent, they'd better have tried it out on their own first.
Who's selling it?
Some of us remember back in the day when curriculum suppliers wouldn't have a thing to do with homeschoolers. We had to buy used books and we certainly weren't trusted with teacher's manuals. Then the homeschooling movement exploded.
I am wary of those who suddenly jumped on board the homeschooling bandwagon when they saw the dollar signs, when they wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole 10 or 15 years ago. I'm also wary of those who seem more interested in me as a potential future customer rather than giving me tools to use right now.
Does it require you pay more for add-ons or 'extras'?
Is it straightforward in what you are paying for or does it have a sense of "but wait, there's more!" infomercial every time you think you have it all purchased?
I know businesses need to make money, and I'm not expecting to get things for free. But I don't like the shyster feel when I go to place an order and several other 'required' components pop up that weren't mentioned at the beginning. Just tell me upfront!
Does it overly complicate the educational process?
Does it require a 4-inch thick manual just to learn the company's lingo or understand their method? I don't know about you, but I don't have that kind of time.
Is it something you could do yourself or by using free materials?
I am willing to step on some toes here. Is it a class you could more easily or cheaply teach yourself? Will it interrupt your family's entire day or week to participate?
Some classes or extras may be worth it, but many will not. It's worth weighing the toll taken vs. the benefit received. I submit that most kids can homeschool just fine without numerous 'enrichment' activities. For a specialized class or two, go for it. Call me crazy, but paying what amounts to college tuition for a middle schooler's classes seems a bit nuts to me.
Some of our best times have been at park days or mom coffee mornings, where the children played and the parents shared their struggles, successes, and even passed around curriculum. I've loved that informal give and take among homeschooling moms. For our family, I've found a greater need for time with friends and free play vs. another structured activity.
My best advice as a mom who's homeschooled for two decades?
If you're feeling stressed and overburdened at the start of a new school year, scale back. I think your kids may thank you.